Levin will step down as top Democrat on Ways and Means

Levin will step down as top Democrat on Ways and Means
© Haiyun Jiang

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) will step down as the ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee, with tax reform and a healthcare repeal set to dominate next year's agenda. 

Levin on Tuesday sent a letter to his colleagues saying that Donald Trump's win changed his perspective and he wants Democrats to promote younger lawmakers up the ranks while relying on experienced lawmakers to navigate through tough policy issues. 

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"I want to do my part to ensure that we are united in the efforts necessary to stop President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE and Speaker [Paul] Ryan as they seek to take this country in a very different direction and turn back the clock on progress we have made and had hoped to continue making,” Levin wrote.

Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Regulation: Net neutrality supporters predict tough court battle | Watchdog to investigate EPA chief's meeting with industry group | Ex-Volkswagen exec gets 7 years for emissions cheating California AG on Trump EPA: ‘It’s almost as if they believe they’re above the law’ Sanctuary city policies are ruining California — here’s why I left MORE (D-Calif.), both longtime members of Congress, have each thrown their hats into the ring to take helm for Democrats. 

Levin has endorsed Becerra for the job, an aide told The Hill on Tuesday.  

Neal, who ran for and lost the Ways and Means chairmanship to Levin six years ago, said he is well-positioned for the ranking member slot.

"I don't know that there would be any dispute over who has more effectively articulated tax, Medicare, Social Security, tariffs, trade and pensions than I have in the Ways and Means committee," he told reporters.

Neal expressed confidence that he could win job.

"I've talked to everybody there and if their words are all good, I'm in great shape," he said.

Becerra, who is outgoing chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, sent a letter to his colleagues asking for their support shortly after Levin announced his decision to step down.

"With the White House and Congress in Republican hands, we need a strong, experienced and energetic leader who will take the fight for our democratic values on the Ways and Means Committee to the American people," Becerra said. "Over the next two years, many of America’s toughest policy decisions will play out in this committee," he said. 

The California Democrat detailed his qualifications and argued that he is a team player.

"Our caucus must act and speak with a clear, unified purpose that shows, not tells, the American people that we have their back," Becerra wrote.

But not everyone was on board with Becerra's candidacy.

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) released a scathing reaction to Becerra’s decision to run for the post.

Vela said that Becerra was the only member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who didn't support Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Calif.) in her Senate race and that he has failed to back other initiatives important to the congressional Latinos.

"Clearly, for Xavier Becerra its not about what is good for the caucus, but what is politically expedient for Xavier Becerra," Vela said in a statement sent to The Hill. 

Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Jim McDermottJim McDermottLobbying World Dem lawmaker: Israel's accusations start of 'war on the American government' Dem to Trump on House floor: ‘Stop tweeting’ MORE (D-Wash.), who would be second and third in line for the ranking seat, are both retiring.

Georgia Rep. John Lewis, who is next in seniority, isn't expected to pursue the job. 

Next are Neal and Becerra, even though the ranking member position isn't determined by seniority. 

Eventually, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will vote followed by the Democratic Caucus to determine who will lead the party's strategy on the panel.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), a member of Ways and Means, praised Levin's work on the committee. 

"Whoever takes over as ranking member will benefit from having Sandy sitting right next to him," Sanchez said. "His nearly four decades of experience in the breadth of issues which come before the committee will be invaluable as we work to make our country stronger," she said.

For his part, Levin said he wants to focus on tax reform, healthcare and trade.

Republicans have said they want to tackle comprehensive tax reform starting early next year. 

As chairman of the panel in 2010, Levin helped pass the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans are saying they will repeal once President Obama leaves office.

"I feel a sense of responsibility to help preserve it, and there are now 20 million people counting on us to stop President Trump and the House Republicans from repealing it,” he said.  

“In addition, Medicare and Medicaid, which have been strengthened by ACA, are again under attack by Republicans who have repeatedly tried to turn them into vouchers or block grants,” he said. 

Trade also remains a top priority for Levin heading into the next administration, which has already vowed to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a deal the Michigan Democrat opposed.

"I also feel a special responsibility to continue putting forward solutions to the challenges of globalization as an alternative to the demagoguery of Donald Trump," Levin said.

Levin said that the Democratic Caucus has taken time over the past few weeks to discuss the party's future because "we have not faced such an all-hands-on-deck moment as we do right now."

Naomi Jagoda, Mike Lillis and Sylvan Lane contributed.

This post was updated at 7:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.